Thursday, May 28, 2009

How the Thermals Saved My Life


My life has encroached upon my leisure. I’ve recently taken on significant non-profit and for-profit projects (details to follow). My kids have reached the age of serial obligations (gymnastics, tee ball, dance, etc.) which seem to eat at the edges of every day. They’ve also discovered music and television of their own, which has slowly pushed mine to the margins. In the rare quiet moments, I’ve embraced the silence, guarded it zealously, and begrudged those who would take it from me. For the co-proprietor of a blog devoted to music, the result has been a historically fallow period. Thank goodness for Trip. Without him, this place would be gathering dust.

For a while, I thought that I had reached that point where music seemed not to matter so much. I’ve seen it happen to others, but I never thought it would happen to me. Through January, February, March and April, I just wasn’t interested. Sure, I bought things and gave them a spin. Some (A.C. Newman, the Felice Brothers) resonated, but most simply fell on apathetic ears.

So I went chasing music. I tried to latch on to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, the buzz album of spring ’09. But for me, the Prog Rock of the Future is a lot like prepared fish. If done just right, it’s great, but way more often than not, I just don’t like it. And I kept chasing but not finding, until one day I decided to relax and let the music find me.

And then, like magic, it did. Lou sent an mp3 by e-mail. It was “I Let it Go” by The Thermals. I clicked. Six scratches on an electric guitar followed by the “POP-POP-boom-boom POP-POP” of a thunder-loud snare. Those four seconds alone would be enough to obliterate my musical ennui, but the song goes on, blasting up a mountain road, kicking gravel over the edge as it slides through the turns, cheating death all the way to the top.

Oh yes. Now I remember. Rock and roll.

I’ve listened to the song on the computer, on my iPod, and in the car at volumes that made my kidneys ache. I’ve sung along till my throat burns. I’ve danced in ways that have attracted attention from local authorities.

If the rest of the album, Now We Can See, fails to reach those stratospheric heights, it’s still pretty terrific, good enough that the Thermals would be minor legends had it come out in 1978, instead of marking them simply as keepers of the flame, a band like so many that have come before. And lest you think that the music is any less joyous because it’s the sort of thing that has been done countless times already, let me invoke the Ice Cream Principle: I’ve had ice cream thousands of times over the years, yet ice cream remains awesome.

And by blasting out the cobwebs, the Thermals have opened my ears to other great new things – Lissy Trullie, Roman Candle, Heartless Bastards and Wussy, to name but a few. They’ve also reminded me of who I am at heart. While my advancing age has allowed me to appreciate subtleties that would have escaped me in my youth (I’m looking at you, Nick Lowe’s last few albums), the thing I love best is still the thing I loved most when I was nineteen, namely the combustion of guitars, bass and drums, plus the adenoidal bluster of a singer flush with righteous rage. I may get old. Rock and roll never does.

3 comments:

Kelly said...

Artful post, Atch.

I expect to see "I Let it Go" on the next cd you make for me (with Boom Boom Pow, of course.)

And your intense listening style, detailed so well here, explains quite well why, when our cars pass on the road, you are too intently focused to note anything other than the musical world isolated inside your thoughts and, sometimes, kiddie-laden minivan.

;-) ~K.

jtd7 said...

It is good to read an account based on such close listening. I'm also enjoying this album. "I Let It Go" also makes nice use of the radical dynamic shift. You might also enjoy the new album by Cursive, "Mama, I'm Swollen"

Charles said...

wussy and the heartless bastards - two great discoveries. glad you're on-board.